The Scratching Post is a weekly newsletter from pets columnist Kate Karp, bringing you all the latest news on pet adoptions, animal welfare and ways to get involved.
In the old days, people filled their cats’ litter boxes with sawdust, ashes, dirt and other things easy on the paws. Occasionally, children would find unanticipated buried treasure in their sandboxes.
I remember my brother shoveling up dirt for Lucky until she was about 2 and we discovered a product called Kitty Litter. Kitty Litter had been invented in 1947 by one Ed Lowe, a Michigander. One wintry day, his neighbor asked him if he could find something to fill her cat’s box, which had frozen solid. Lowe gave her a bag of natural clay called fuller’s earth, which his father used to absorb oil spills. It worked beautifully. Interestingly, as cat litter, it’s now commonly used to sop up oil leaked from vehicles. You can read about the product development in this pun-littered article.
Now, there are more forms and variations of cat litter than you could shake a wand toy at. Tofu litter is even a thing: biodegradable, soft on the paws, and if the cat won’t use it, can always be braised and served with seaweed salad. Here, in the spirit of (heh) yellow journalism, is a little list of common litter forms:
- Clay, or gravel, is the traditional type. Some of the brands use baking soda as odor control, which you can do yourself. Gravel is affordable and absorbent, but it’s dusty, leading to sneezing and tracking, and comparatively hard on the paddy-paws. Odor control is not the best. Plus, it isn’t biodegradable.
- Clay clumping litter is easy to clean, easier on the paws, and controls odors better and lasts longer than its granular counterpart. But it’s also easily tracked through the house and not biodegradable. One caveat: Do not use clumping litter for kittens under 4 months old. The granules can be ingested, enlarge in the kittens’ really small intestines, and cause blockage.
- Crystals are lightweight, highly absorbent and have better odor control but also track, are not easy on the paw pads, aren’t biodegradable or eco-friendly, and cost more. The form gave me paws—er, pause at first because of recent reports of silicosis from quartz dust, but sources state that the silica in the litter crystals has been processed to eliminate the problem.
- Paper What better place for a newspaper than in the bathroom? Paper litter is primarily recycled newspaper, so it’s earth friendly. It’s cheaper than other forms and doesn’t get tracked around the house easily. Odor control is meh, though, and the texture may be uncomfortable. Unsurprisingly, it dissolves into smelly mush when damp.
- Organics: corn, wheat, grass, walnut shells and pine wood have one thing in common: they’re biodegradable, meaning that you can flush the litter down the toilet—just the urine clumps, mind, and not the poop. California Fish and Game Code Section 4501 prohibits flushing cat feces because of a link between a pathogen found in the excrement and sea otter mortality, so toss the lumps in the trash. Organics are nicer to the toesies, clump well, have decent odor control, and are virtually dust free. However, since they’re organic, they should be stored where they don’t spoil or attract pests that aren’t cats. Some forms—pine especially—have very strong odors. The grass type might pose a problem to allergy sufferers, but fellow cat nut Debbie Fawcett said, “For the most part, it smells really good.” The first four words are an obvious qualifier.
I cobbled together a litter-preference poll on Nextdoor to get community opinions. The data is highly unreliable—Nextdoor allows only six choices, and I had to do “other” for the sixth—but I got some info. Clumping clay had the most votes (36%), and ye olde non-clumping variety got the fewest (3%). But participants had a real back-fence discussion about the types of litter they use. I haven’t specified brands in the article, but the participants did.
They argued pros and cons of walnut shells and crystals, suggested such outliers as a probiotic brand (I have no idea) and one that claims to measure the pH of urine, and offered box maintenance advice. Kahlea Humbert mixes clumping gravel with crystals, which dehydrates the poop and clumps the urine. Best of both worlds, she said. Rhonda Marikos ignores the product’s instruction to change the litter only once a week and instead does it every two days and deep-cleans the box.
“Not because of odor—I just think cats prefer a clean place to go,” Marikos said.
If you’re shopping for cat litter, search out reviews and recommendations, and remember that in the end, so to speak, you and the cat are the arbiters of what works. Hope this has helped you think inside the box.
Pets to adopt or foster
The loo at the Feline Good Social Club has more stalls than the restrooms at LAX. Pam Leslie, the Club’s social director, uses a corn-based litter because it’s safe for both cats and the environment. She says that it does a reasonable job of odor management. Scooping’s a snap, too.
“We’ve found that we can’t use sand-type litters because of the constant use of the litter boxes and the tracking mess,” Leslie said. “Plus, some of the kittens like to play in it, and that’s a real mess.”
And these are the cats who use the litter that live in the house that Pam built. They’re all rescues, and you can book appointments or join in on an event to meet them and maybe take one into your own home. Access this link for adoption information.
Oz, a little over a year old, came into rescue as a bottle baby, just days old. She has grown into an incredible beauty—an apparent black smoked Eqyptian mau, with the sweetest disposition. She’s what we call a background cat, as she doesn’t demand attention and will only play when it’s not too rowdy. In other words, she’s a lady.
Dottie, also a year old, was rescued as a tiny kitten from a shelter. After the requisite stay in a foster home where she learned proper etiquette and how to be a good girl, she graduated to the Lounge at Feline Good Social Club. Since she came in as a single kitten, she’s remained a loner. She gets along well with most cats and annoys other cats—just being real! Dottie loves to play and is very good at it. She totally loves the flying Frisbee toy and is in the front row to catch it.
Alfie, a year old, started life at a shelter at just 5 weeks old, with a damaged eye! Long Beach Felines took excellent care of him, including repairing his eye, and he graduated to the Lounge, where he’s been since March. Alfie is good to everyone. He’s nice to other cats and loves people. What he is known for is his long, thin tail that he curls over his back.
Pet events and announcements
The holiday season has begun, and no better treat that pet-themed Halloween stuff! Get into costume (or not), get your doggie dressed up (the cat may have a word with you about that), and let’s get eerie with our dearie!
Long Beach Animal Care Services annual Howl-o-Ween Festival!
LBACS staff and volunteers promise that you’ll have a “hare-raising adventure” going trick or treat through the trails. They’ll wend and wind through the animal-education village; past kennels to participate in Bark-o-Treat and Pet Ofrenda for the cats, dogs and bunnies; down to the Dia de los Muertos memorial to commune with spirits of past pets; bounce the spirits out of you at the Ohhh-possum Patch; and grab a few spooky snacks for the road. For more information, call 562-570-1745.
Saturday, Oct. 21, 2 to 6 p.m., Long Beach Animal Care Services, 7700 E. Spring St., Long Beach, no parking fee for shelter visitors, $5 donation to Partners of Parks/Friends of El Dorado Nature Center
Feline Good Social Club’s Punk Rawk Yoga
It’s all purr-nayama at the Feline Good Social Club, with a special playlist that’s sure to challenge your relaxation techniques! Goth, synth and post-punk will fill the lounge with dark sounds as you stretch your tired bones and let the resident cats get familiar with you! Wear a catly costume or just your comfy wraps. All cats are adoptable, so they’ll be trick-or-treating, too. Ages 13 and up only, and any monster under 16 needs their adult Frankenstein with them.
Sunday, Oct. 29, 6 to 7 p.m., Feline Good Social Club, 301 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach, tickets $30, available here
(Note: The Friday the 13th Feline Good Social Club Sound Bath event has been cancelled.)
To see a list of local animal rescue groups, click here.